Although Tissot gave exacting attention to archaeological detail, providing what he intended as historically accurate backdrops for the narrative of Christ’s life, he also pursued the mystical. At the pool known as the Piscina Probatica, the infirm gather around the edge of the water in the hope of being healed.
According to John, an angel stirs the pool, activating its curative powers; the next person to step into the water would be delivered from affliction. Tissot’s image features two large, translucent hands reaching down into the pool: the bubbles and widening ripples on the water’s surface serve as traces of the miraculous phenomenon.
While Tissot’s painting invokes otherworldly agency, his accompanying commentary highlights the more mundane circumstances of life during the time of Jesus, including the water supply for the city of Jerusalem: the series of cisterns, reservoirs, and basins used for healing, sacrifice, and domestic needs.
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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Piscina Probatica or Pool of Bethesda (La piscine probatique ou de Bethesda), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 9 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (23.5 x 14.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.68
Purchased by public subscription
Image: 9 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (23.5 x 14.9 cm); Sheet: 9 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (23.5 x 14.9 cm); Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)